Thursday, October 29, 2009

October Links & Things

I'll be attending the World Fantasy Convention in San Jose this weekend (Friday through Sunday, possibly this evening as well), so I'm posting my Links column a couple days early. My schedule has been extremely hectic this month: in the past two or so weeks I was contacted by three different publishers all wanting projects completed by mid-November; I think I've negotiated my way around all of them, but only time will tell. Said hectic-ness also explains why there hasn't been any blog post this month, and also why this Links post isn't as long as it typically is; it takes a lot of time to read hundreds of Twitter posts and RSS feeds daily, and then select only those links that I feel are of some value to include here.

Speaking of Time... This is when I wish I had Hiro Nakamura's power, which would allow me to stop time, and then get a lot more work done.

I'm hoping to have a "big announement" soon (big, at least for me) and it will hopefully provide a lead-in to a new blog post. Until then, here are my links and such for the month of October. I've listed them here, all in one post, and with additional detail and comment. You can receive these links in real time by following me on Twitter: @martyhalpern.

  • At the top of my list this month is the new Federal Trade Commmission guidelines (a downloadable PDF) for bloggers, and how it impacts the "little" book blogs (or the "little" music blogs, or the "little" clothing blogs, or...). Richard Cleland, of the Bureau of Consumer Protection (i.e. the FTC), states in an interview: "If a blogger received enough books, he could open up a used bookstore." This guy has got to be kidding, right? The FTC expects bloggers to return, or throw away, or donate every single free book they receive; otherwise, the book must be declared as compensation, and noted in the blog that it was received for free. Also, any commercial link(s) on a blog for a book that has been reviewed must be removed. BUT, these guidelines do not apply to newspapers, magazines, and other such commercially sponsored blogs: their reviewers, who are getting paid to review, can keep their books, and any commercial links on the page are okay. Does it sound like the newspaper and magazine industries -- because their buisnesses are hurting -- have been hustling the government for support against these competing "little guy blogs"? If you are a blogger, or you support individual blogs, you need to read this material.

    Here's the
    Dear Author blog with a piece entitled "The FTC and the Unreasonable Case of Disclosure"; and from Jeff Jarvis of the BuzMachine blog: "FTC regulates our speech." Be sure to read the comments on this latter blog, which at this time number 150 and are as important as the article itself.

    And Jack Shafer at takes a shot at these new guidelines as well, with a great piece entitled "The FTC's Mad Power Grab: The commission's preposterous new endorsement guidelines." (Note: all these blog links on the new FTC guidelines via @RonHogan)

    After the blogosphere shitstorm that arose with the announcement of the new FTC Guidelines, Richard Cleland clarifies some points with PRNewser via "We have never brought a case against a consumer endorser and we've never brought a case against somebody simply for failure to disclose a material connection." Of course, Elizabeth Lordan, FTC Public Affairs Specialist, also clarified that the per offense "$11,000 figure is old information that used to be a part of the boilerplate in our press releases when court order violations were announced." The current per offense figure is $16,000.00! We appreciate the clarification, Ms. Lordan!

    And a last update (I promise!) from
    Publishers Weekly on 10/19/2009: Mary Engle, an FTC lawyer, spoke recently at KidlitCon 09, a conference of children"s book bloggers. She stated that the FTC "never intended to patrol the blogosphere....We couldn't do it if we wanted to and we don't want to." She went on to say that these guidelines "are intended to put meat on the bones of the 'endorsement and testimonial' guidelines first issued in 1980." She used a Proctor & Gamble campaign, called "Vocalpoint," as an example. According to PW: "Either clarifying or backpedaling from [Richard] Cleland's statements [see above], Engle said Saturday someone with a 'personal blog, writing a genuine or organic review,' did not need to disclose how they got the book or assign it a value."

  • If you are an author, an editor, a publicist, a publisher -- anything! -- you absolutely must read this special piece in The New Yorker on modern book publicity. It's the "Shouts and Murmurs" column and the article is entitled: "Subject: Our Marketing Plan." Here's how the article begins: "Let me introduce myself. My name is Gineen Klein, and I've been brought on as an intern to replace the promotion department here at Propensity Books." A must read...

  • Literary agent Nathan Bransford answers the question: "What Do Literary Agents Do?" which may indeed surprise you. Bransford's blog post breaks down the lit agent's responsibilities into these headers: The Filter, Pre-submission Editing, Submitting to Editors, Negotiating Offers, Negotiating Contracts, Keeping Track of the Publication Process, Subrights, Career Shaping, and The Ultimate Advocate. Bransford writes: "This is just a basic list, and there's often more to it than this. It's quite a catchall job, one that requires a long apprenticeship, time in the business, a strong work ethic, a good eye, and a passion for books.... For all of these tasks the agent receives income based only on commission -- again, the agent is only paid if/when the author is paid." As of this posting, there are 84 comments; most worthy of your time as well. (via @inkyelbows)

  • And speaking of agents, Colleen Lindsay (@ColleenLindsay) dissects a "successful" query letter she received in February from Kelly Gay, author of The Better Part of Darkness. Colleen discusses Kelly's query letter, point by point, and with commentary. The query letter led Colleen to request to see the manuscript, and the rest, as they say, is history. As an added treat, author Kelly Gay discusses the query letter from her own perspective on her blog. A must read for any author who has a query letter to write soon (or an author who has had a recent query rejected).

  • Steve Berkun provides an excellent explanation of what a copyeditor actually does in his essay entitled "How copyediting looks and feels." He goes on to explain, from his perspective as a writer, the relationship between the author and the copyeditor. Steve writes: "[My copyeditor is] tough, smart, sarcastic and direct, which is great. I want to hear some tough stuff in the copyedit. How else will the book get better? A copyeditor and author shouldn't agree on everything -- the process should force the writer to think more clearly and catch bad assumptions they've made. I get final say, so what do I have to lose in being questioned? Better now than in book reviews.... Good copyeditors are underpaid. [Here! Here!] They have the most intimate involvement in the creative process, even though it's late in the game. In many cases they make mediocre writers look good." Steve even showcases a screen shot of Microsoft Word's "change tracking" process.

  • Speaking of what copyeditors -- and editors and proof readers -- do, Nicola Morgan spells it out for us in her recent blog post "Myths About Writing: I Can Leave It To Editors." Nicola writes: "I can understand that you might be thinking, 'So, if they do all this, it doesn't matter if I submit my work to an editor or agent with a few errors in. In fact, isn't it a waste of time on my part to bother with such details at this stage?'" To which she responds: "NO, NO, NO. NO." -- and she gives reasons why, too! (via @charlestan) BTW, Nicola's blog is entitled Help! I Need a Publisher! -- a great title; I love it!

  • Novelist Alexander Chee recounts, in a beautifully written essay, his experience studying under Annie Dillard. Chee writes: "Very quickly, she identified what she called 'bizarre grammatical structures' inside my writing. From the things Annie circled in my drafts, it was clear one answer to my problem really was, in a sense, Maine. From my mom's family, I'd gotten the gift for the telling detail ― Your Uncle Charles is so cheap he wouldn't buy himself two hamburgers if he was hungry ― but also a voice cluttered by the passive voice in common use in that part of the world ― I was writing to ask if you were interested ― a way of speaking that blunted all aggression, all direct inquiry, and certainly, all description." The essay has an exceptional ending, which I won't spoil here for you; you'll have to read it for yourself. (via @MaudNewton)

  • Amy Hertz, editor of HuffPost Books, shocked a number of her readers -- and sent the Twittersphere all a tweet -- with her post ("Dear Publishing Colleagues") in which she stated: "This is NOT a book review section. Let me say that again, because I know about 72,000 publicists just plotzed because they have no idea what to do other than ask for a review. Huffington Post Books is not a review -- there's a reason those sections in newspapers are dropping like flies. Book reviews tend to be conversation enders, and when you're living in the age of engagement, a time when people are looking for conversation starters, that stance gets you nowhere. And now you're thinking, If I can't send you books to review, how does anyone get attention for them on your site? I thought you'd never ask." A must-read for book reviewers and book bloggers. Her first suggestion (bullet #2) is something I have committed to doing with this blog, More Read Ink; I always have something to say about the books I've edited, there's just never enough time in which to say (write) it.

  • From Reuters: "Thousands of hyphens perish as English marches on." "About 16,000 words have succumbed to pressures of the Internet age and lost their hyphens in a new edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. Bumble-bee is now bumblebee, ice-cream is ice cream and pot-belly is pot belly. And if you've got a problem, don't be such a crybaby (formerly cry-baby)." Actually, I don't see this as specifically an Internet thing. I've noticed over the years that my British authors use far more hyphens than are typically found in American English. For example, I find "no-one" hyphenated in British writing all the time, and it frustrates me to no end, and I'm always editing out that hyphen. But there are dozens of instances where the hyphen is necessary because of the consistency of style in the storytelling. Regardless, 16,000 words losing their hyphens may simply bring British English in line with American English. I'm all for it!

  • Consulting Editor Alan Rinzler has a blog entitled The Book Deal: An Inside View of Publishing, and his current post, "Why book publishers love short stories," provides quite a bit of inspiration for short story writers everywhere. First, Rinzler covers the numbers: "A quick look at Amazon shows 29,000 story collections listed. Of those, more than 3,500 are anthologies of stories by a single author." He then talks about many authors whose short story collections went on to win the Pulitzer and other awards, or authors who began writing short stories, and then progressed to award-winning novels. As an editor and proponent of single-author short story collections, I'm always pleased to see support for such books. Though, unfortunately, since leaving Golden Gryphon Press at the end of 2007, I haven't had the opportunity to acquire and edit a single-author collection.

  • In an article published on DigitalBeat, courtesy of POD People, I learned that now "Sony embraces small publishers and unknown authors on Sony Reader eBook store." Smashwords is an ebook publishing and distribution platform for ebook authors, publishers, and readers, offering multi-format, DRM-free ebooks, ready for immediate sampling and purchase, and readable on any e-reading device. In this article Smashwords has announced that it "has a distribution agreement to get its books published on Sony's new eBook portal.... Now it's much easier for authors to hit lots of readers. Self-published authors can now visit the Sony Publisher Portal and click on Smashwords to sign up for a free publishing account.... Besides Smashwords, Sony is also getting new eBooks from Author Solutions."

  • The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (@sfwa) blog has a post by authors' best friend Victoria Strauss, who explains "The Perils of Searching for a Publisher on the Internet." Aside from a couple big-name NY publishers that pop up at the top of most searches, the listings are fraught with sponsored links to fee-based publishers (and, according to Ms. Strauss, not all of these fees are openly mentioned). But what is even more important on this page -- particularly for new writers -- is the link at the bottom, which takes the reader to Ms. Strauss's Writers Beware Blogs! and a fine piece entitled "Learning the Ropes." As Ms. Strauss writes: "Unless writers are able to filter the information they find online, they're at risk of making bad decisions or falling victim to predators. In other words, writers need to know something about publishing before they start searching for publishers (or agents). Rather than plunging in and attempting to learn on the fly, it's a much better idea to first take the time to build a knowledge base."

  • Ms. Strauss has another blog entry on the SFWA site, entitled "Thoughts on Self-Promotion," in which she contemplates/reviews the various possibilities as the publication of her own book approaches. The article has links to a Washington Post piece on self-promotion as well as a link to a web-based strategy that is doable on your own. She concludes with: "The key, I think, is to be realistic. Have a plan. Do your research. Know the options. Keep your head -- don't get carried away by the hype that surrounds every new self-promotional strategy. Keep it reasonable -- for your budget, your time- and energy-level (don't let self-promotion cut too deeply into the time you allot to your real job, writing), and your personality (Do conventions stress you out? Do you despise Twitter? Then focus your efforts elsewhere).... And never forget that the basis of all self-promotion is something very simple, and infinitely complex: a good book. There really is no substitute."

  • Stephen King, on Entertainment Weekly, presents his harsh opinion on "What's Next for Pop Culture?" -- i.e. the decline of quality in entertainment: books, radio, movies, and TV. King writes: "At this writing, best-selling hardcovers have settled at an e-book price point of about $10, but if you think e-book vendors such as Amazon and Sony are making a profit, you would be wrong. That's because the product is sold cheap for the same reason that dope pushers sell the product cheap, at least to begin with: to get you hooked.... Good stories are dope. I love my Kindle, but what appears there has (so far) been backstopped by great publishers and layers of editing. If the e-book drives those guys out of business (or even into semiretirement), what happens to the quality? For that matter, who pays the advances? No one I talk to can answer these questions."

  • Scott Cupp continues his column "Geek with (Lots of) Books" on SFSignal: this entry on the relationship he has with his wife -- "St. Sandi," the title of this piece -- and she with his collecting habits. "And while Sandi is often a saint, she frequently asks when I plan on getting rid of some things. She does not understand the joy of having a vinyl album in its full glory, a cassette of the same album (so you can listen to it in the car) and a CD of it also (with some extra tracks and good sound) which I can play at the house since my turntable is currently not working. When I explain it like that, I get the response 'Well, since the turntable is not working and has not worked in a year or so, why don't you get rid of the vinyl?' She makes it sound so logical. But my collecting mind does not work that way."

    next column is entitled "The Cheap Collector" in which he explains how to build a book collection cheaply. The simplest way is to purchase the book upon publication, at which time, if it is the right book, such that it increases dramatically in price among collectors, then the original publication price (or discounted price at time of publication) will be the cheapest you will ever find the book. Of course, as I said, it has to be the right (i.e. speculative) book. Scott also talks about frequenting used book stores; he's in Texas, and maybe his state still has a lot of used bookstores, but I haven't seen a used bookstore in my area for a number of years.

  • And lastly, if you haven't read the novel The Phantom Tollbooth, then there is a definite hole in your being of which you are not aware and it immediately needs to be nourished! Buy a copy, borrow a copy, whatever it takes, you must read The Phantom Tollbooth. My wife and I took turns reading it to our daughter when she was around five. TPT was written by Norton Juster and illustrated by Jules Feiffer. The two men lived in the same Brooklyn apartment building in the 1950s after each served a term in the military. They met one day while taking out their garbage. It's a wonderful story; read the Publishers Weekly piece at your leisure, but be forewarned: Juster and Feiffer are collaborating once again (they are both 80 years old!) on a new picture book, The Odious Ogre, for Michael di Capua Books at Scholastic, due out in fall 2010. (via @genreville)


  1. Hi Marty,

    Thanks for the mention! :-)


  2. Hi, Kelly,

    You're quite welcome. It's a rare opportunity to be able to read commentary from both perspectives -- agent and author -- on a well-done query letter. And, of course, congrats on the book's publication.

    - marty